In the face of adversity, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has always been one of the first organizations the people could think of to help them. During the upsurge of COVID-19 in the country, lockdown was imposed throughout Luzon. The lockdown has restricted movements of the public. With all the restrictions, the agency’s capacity to serve was tested.
Travel restriction imposed during the enhanced community quarantine caused some shut borders, and did not allow outsiders to enter. Minors and senior citizens were not allowed to go out of their residences. It is also during that time that the Department of Social Welfare and Development Field Office Cordillera Administrative Region was at the height of distributing the stipend of Social Pension beneficiaries for the first semester of 2020. With this, the distribution had to temporarily stop to avoid the gathering of people and not to put senior citizens at risk, but it did not stop the Department from delivering the stipend to the indigent beneficiaries. Different approaches were considered to be able to continue the payout. Above the approaches, DSWD’s angels in red vest came to the rescue bringing with them the passion and commitment to deliver the service to the Cordilleran elders.
Social Pension Program for the Indigent Senior Citizen is an offshoot of Republic Act No. 9994 or the “Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010” which provides monthly stipend amounting to PHP 500 to indigent senior citizens to augment their daily subsistence and other medical needs. The stipend is distributed on a semestral basis at PHP3,000 per semester.
The law specifies that seniors qualified to receive social pension are those who are frail, sickly or with disability; without any pension from other government agencies; and without a permanent source of income or source of financial assistance/compensation to support their basic needs.
Out of the Usual
DSWD FO-CAR personnel were not exempted from the effects of the crisis due to COVID-19 but they still managed to work hard ensuring that they can keep delivering to the people who are in need, while keeping the clients and themselves safe. To ensure the safety of the staff and clients, health protocols such as wearing of mask, face shield, and in some cases, bunny suits were followed, keeping the social distance between the beneficiaries in the waiting areas were likewise observed.
Nik Castil, one of the DSWD staff, has narrated his experience on wearing full personal protective equipment during the payout in Pinget, Baguio City. “This year was my first time to augment for the Social Pension Program pay-out. The COVID-19 pandemic made it challenging because our health was at risk. Given that payout is considered as an event that requires mass gathering, precautionary measures were observed, so, we equipped ourselves with complete personal protective equipment— facemask, face shield, gloves, and suit before going to the payout venue.
In one unavoidable circumstance, we have decided to do a home visit to give the pension to some beneficiaries. We had to walk up the stairs, and although it was not that difficult to go there, walking full-gear with PPE was uncomfortable but we needed to be extra cautious for everyone’s safety. When we arrived, the beneficiary was sleeping on their living room. They said he was sick and is not able to walk anymore. He was fragile that he cannot sit on his own. He also could barely move his arm. I assisted him so he could put his thumbmark on his payroll. They were not able to send an authorized representative to get the stipend at the venue that day so it was a good decision to do the home visit. Seeing his family appreciate the effort we did to deliver the stipend for his medication was more than enough.
Imagine the risk that it can give to everyone, especially to the senior citizens. But because of our collective efforts, we were able to give the stipends and finish the pay-out early and successfully”, Nik said.
It’s the challenge that makes it great
Nothing can stop the unwavering passion of the Social Pension staff to extend their hands to the people who are in need. They have prepared themselves to bring the services to the beneficiaries wherever they may be. Even if the beneficiaries live in Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDAs), the staff willingly hike for hours to reach them.
Barangay Tacadang is one of the hardest place to reach in Kibungan, Benguet. To reach the place, one must hike for hours and be prepared to isolate yourself from the city life for mobile phone signal is very weak.
Simphel Lucaben has volunteered to go to Kibungan, knowing that he is going to hike. He thought he could handle it for he has already tried hiking in the past. He took this opportunity to breathe some fresh air after the stress the pandemic has brought during the lockdown. As expected, he hiked for about 3 hours and to make the experience more thrilling, rain showers started to pour from time to time. “I had to wear improvised raincoat with the use of big plastic bags to keep myself dry. It was not easy holding an umbrella while hiking because I had to keep my balance and make sure that my hands are free to cling on something when I happen to slip accidentally. The challenge did not stop there because as we went our way in the wet trail, leeches started somersaulting everywhere. I cannot recall how many bites I got from them, but I did not mind it that much for it is not really life threatening”, Simphel recalled.
He was accompanied by one of the Local Government Unit (LGU) staff in going from one sitio to another and home after home to deliver the stipend. Despite the adversities he had to go through, in the end, it was all worth it after seeing the smiles of the beneficiaries when they received their stipend. Their words of appreciation restored the energy after their long hike.
Courage to Serve Others
While the nation has not yet recovered from the ongoing pandemic, came typhoons that has left more damages to the people. It has caused brownouts and roadblocks in some places. However, the staff on the field were more than ready and prepared in this situation for they have experienced it before. Armed with flashlights, the stipend were successfully distributed to the beneficiaries during an unexpected brownout in an area.
During the second semester, several times that the schedules of payouts were rescheduled for various reasons and one of these is the rising number of COVID-19 positive cases. This was experienced firsthand by the field staff in Kalinga. “Ang original schedule ng pay-out ay sa August 17-19,2020 pero na reschedule sa October 19-23, 2020 dahil duma mi ang positive cases ng Tanudan that time, kaya pinilit na namin ituloy kahit bumabagyo kasi kailangan na talaga ng senior citizen yung mga stipend nila para sa kanilang pangangailangan”, Jaston Ian Lagunilla said.
The typhoon is just one thing that has made these staff to pause and gather their strength and courage. To reach one of the Barangays in Tanudan, the staff had to cross an impassable hanging bridge. They were left with no choice but to cross this bridge for this is their only way. The bridge itself is dangerous and adding the situation wherein it is raining and the water current in the river is so strong, made it so much harder for the staff. It is really a life risking task for them, one wrong move and they will be put in danger.
“Mix emotions po kami habang nag-crocross. May takot at nerbyos pero ang tumatak sa isip namin ay dapat maidala namin ang stipend ng mga senior citizen para sakanilang pangangailangan. Nasa higit 40 din yung mga senior citizen na nag-hihintay at mostly sakanila ay bedridden pa”, shared by Cindy Saclao.
The thought that some police officers from the PNP accompanied them, gave them guarantee that they are safe during their mission.
Despite the fear the pandemic has brought to everyone, the hospitality of the Filipinos has prevailed. “Nag welcome sila sa amin ng open arms. In fact, sobra ang saya at na appreciate talaga nila dahil naideliver sa barangay nila ang stipend ng mga senior citizen”, Javie Isican said.
2020 has been a year that has tested us greatly. But the compassion of every staff has prevailed proving that they are indeed are “angels in red vest”. As written in Numbers 22:35, “Angels don’t seem to need rest.”. DSWD personnel didn’t really mind the fatigue they have felt and continued to conquer the challenges that come their way to be able to deliver and serve the people in need. #DSWD-CAR, Social Marketing Unit, Jezebel L. Gumatay